Star Wars #1 from Marvel hasn’t even actually gone on sale yet, but just based on pre-orders alone, it’s already the biggest selling comic of the last twenty years. The hype machine building up to the release of the latest Star Wars comic has been formidable, as fans everywhere foamed at the mouth in anticipation. With expectation like that, you’d think there hadn’t been a Star Wars comic book series, or even several, in constant publication for the last twenty-five years. In fact, the last comic labeled Star Wars #1 came out just two years ago from Dark Horse Comics, and like Marvel’s new series, it was also set in the era right after after the events of A New Hope. And sure, this is the first Star Wars comic at Marvel, their original publisher, in almost thirty years, but it’s not like this means we are going to see Galactus show up to eat Tatooine or anything. So is this really that a big a deal?
As it turns out…yeah, it totally is a big deal. Not to slight Brian Wood (who wrote the last Star Wars series set after Episode IV) or any of the comic book creators over at Dark Horse, but a lot of those books felt like stories set within the Star Wars universe certainly, but that didn’t feel like you were watching an actual Star Wars movie. For this new Marvel book, I am almost surprised the opening crawl didn’t just say “Episode IV.I” because that’s what this feels like. Just like the movies (I speak now of the original trilogy, of course), this comic drops you right in the middle of the action, and most of the dialogue and character moments happen while “the shit’s goin’ down”, as they say. Any time I read a recent Star Wars comic and it featured any of the characters just sitting around having long conversations about anything for pages, it never felt like I was watching one of the movies. This book, however, is different. This is a Star Wars comic that is truly cinematic.
The story opens first with the opening crawl, which already gives you nostalgic fuzzies and makes you feel like you’re witnessing an “official chapter” of the saga. And as a proper Star Wars story should, our story begins in space and pans down on a starship landing on an Imperial weapons factory world known as CYMOON-1. The starship is supposedly an emissary ship sent by Jabba the Hutt to negotiate materials to sell to the Empire for their enormous war machine. But when “Jabba’s emissary” steps out of the ship, it turns out to be Han Solo (flanked by two guards in disguise — can ya guess who they really are?). You know, as Han Solo famously said in the original film, “This is where the fun begins.” And from pages 12-22 of this comic, “fun” is just the exact word to describe it all.
Writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, Wolverine and the X-Men) perfectly captures the pacing, action, and humor of the original Star Wars in a way that a lot of the comics haven’t for a long time it seems. Although only one chapter in, I can honestly say, in a lot ways, this is probably the kind of story a fan might have expected the second Star Wars film to be like, way back in 1977 when anticipating the next chapter of the saga (although that Empire movie we ended up with turned out pretty OK, I guess).
Aaron finds a way to involve all the “big six” of the saga – Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the droids – as an integral part of the story. In particular, Chewie and Threepio, characters that in many comics stories are just there because they kind of have to be, actually figure into the plot in a cool way. The best compliment I can give this comic is that, by the end of the issue, I was eagerly anticipating the next chapter, despite the fact that I pretty much know that none of our main characters are in any real jeopardy. It’s not like Marvel is going to get all Inglorious Basterds on us, and deviate from established history, and suddenly have Vader kill Han and Luke or something (although I’d totally buy that comic).
But as good as Aaron’s story is, it wouldn’t be anything without the amazing artwork of John Cassaday (Planetary) to go with it. While Cassaday’s art is usually pretty stunning, he really brought his A-Game to this one. Sometimes when he doesn’t have enough time to work on a book, it suffers (for example, his art in Uncanny Avengers is no where near as good as his work on Astonishing X-Men where he had more lead time). This is great stuff from Cassaday, and he absolutely kills it when it comes to capturing the essence of the original actor’s faces, without falling into the trap so many licensed comics fall into, where it looks like they are just tracing screen shots from the shows or movies they are adapting. And the detail he gives everything is just so spot-on and Star Wars-y that you can tell this is a labor of love for him.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, many worried about just what they’d do with the franchise. Between the super fun Star Wars: Rebels TV series and now this comic from Marvel, they leave me with nothing but good feelings that the franchise is in good hands with them. 2015 is a big year for the saga, what with The Force Awakens coming and all, and judging by Star Wars #1, it’s already off to a pretty good start.
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos